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Two Arizona Groups That Intimidated Phoenix-area Churches and Pastors Ordered to Stop Harassment and Pay Damages

Groups have agreed to a consent decree with churches that aided immigrants

PHOENIX — An Arizona federal court today entered an order that prohibits Patriot Movement AZ (PMAZ) and four of its members from illegally harassing and intimidating Phoenix-area churches and pastors. The order also requires PMAZ and its members to make a payment to the plaintiffs, who lived in fear for months.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Stinson LLP filed suit in federal court in June 2019 against two Arizona-based groups – PMAZ and AZ Patriots – and several members, who had been threatening and harassing churches, pastors and volunteers who were providing aid to immigrants who were lawfully present in the United States.

The consent decree with PMAZ and four of its members is virtually the same agreement that was reached with AZ Patriots and four of its members in September 2019.

“We hope that this settlement sends a message to hate groups and extremists who target people because of the color of their skin or immigration status,” said Scott McCoy, interim deputy legal director for the SPLC. “People who engage in this type of action will be held accountable.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, described how members and supporters of AZ Patriots and PMAZ, an SPLC-designated hate group, impeded the churches and volunteers who provided immigrants and their families in the Phoenix area with food, clothing, basic medical care and temporary housing and helped arrange transportation to their U.S. sponsors. The churches were working with the Alliance of Christian Leaders of East Valley, a nonprofit organization comprising pastors of several Hispanic churches in the Phoenix metropolitan area. 

Under the order, the defendants are permanently enjoined and restrained from:

  • Trespassing on, standing, sitting, or lying on, or blocking, impeding, or obstructing ingress or egress from any property or building owned or regularly and consistently used by plaintiffs, or directly encouraging others to do the same;
     
  • Physically abusing, grabbing, touching, pushing, shoving, crowding, or tortiously harassing persons entering or leaving, working at or using the services of any property or building owned or regularly and consistently used by plaintiffs, or directly encouraging others to do the same; 
     
  • Using any mechanical loudspeaker or sound amplification device, including, but not limited to, megaphones, bullhorns, and electric amplifiers, or making any excessively loud sound which injures, disturbs, or endangers the health or safety of any person on any property or building owned or regularly and consistently used by plaintiffs, or directly encouraging others to do the same; and
     
  • Stating or implying (or directly encouraging others to do the same) in any public forum, including but not limited to, social media or media interviews, that any plaintiff is engaged in any form of human trafficking or sex trafficking or harboring fugitives.

“I feel more safe and secure now that all of the defendants have agreed not to harass, threaten or cause our volunteers and church members to fear for their safety,” said Angel Campos, pastor of Iglesia Monte Vista. “I finally have some peace of mind knowing that they have agreed not to come back, but it does not erase what happened to us and the fear that we lived through.”

The defendants also agreed to pay the churches, pastors and volunteers.

 “The court’s order, which prohibits Patriot Movement Arizona, AZ Patriots and their members from continuing their intimidation and harassment of people who are lawfully in this country, shows that the rule of law protects people regardless of their skin color or nationality,” said Larry J. Wulkan, partner at Stinson LLP.

PMAZ is listed by the SPLC as a hate group because it peddles in anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ bigotry. Its founder, Lesa Antone, one of the named defendants, has engaged in fearmongering and conspiracy theories about undocumented immigrants.

AZ Patriots is composed of former PMAZ members who split off from the group in February 2019. It is led by Jennifer Harrison, another named defendant. The group had engaged in many of the same tactics as PMAZ, including harassing churches that shelter immigrants.